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Martin Elliott Wright 1949-2013

Geologist in the UK Civil Service whose work ranged from the country’s road network to the regulation of aircraft noise and the effects of air transport on the atmosphere.

Martin Wright was born in London but moved, in 1960, with his family to Lowestoft where he attended the Lowestoft Grammar School.  He then read geology at Imperial College, graduated as an Associate of the Royal School of Mines at the top of his year in 1971, and won the Watts Medal.

From 1972 Martin started a career in the Civil Service which lasted nearly 25 years.  He began by using his geological knowledge in the Minerals and Land Use Planning section of the then Department of the Environment with particular regard to aggregate minerals, where he trained others including the present writer who has reason to be grateful for his guidance at certain crucial times.  Martin met his future wife, Ann, in the Minerals Planning Section and they married in 1981.    

He later worked on environmental policy and the Department’s supporting Research and Development Programme before transferring to the Chief Scientist’s Unit in the Department of Transport (DoT) followed by a two-year posting on the financing of Local Authority Roads.  This diversification reflected the situation in the Civil Service where scientists working within professional sectors could generally only reach a middle rank in the service unless they became generalists: a ‘glass ceiling’ that Martin successfully broke through. 

As Deputy to the Chief Scientist of DoT for seven years from 1983, Martin had oversight of all Departmental R&D across all modes of transport and represented the UK and DoT on various European programme transport management Committees.  From 1993, he was Head of Division responsible for aviation environmental matters including responsibility for noise control and mitigation measures at major airports.  He was a UK representative on the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection. 

In May 1996, he took voluntary redundancy and became an independent consultant on aircraft noise and emissions including work for the Civil Aviation Authority and was a review editor for the ‘Aviation and the Global Atmosphere’ study at the invitation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  So, by the end of his career, he had shifted from dealing with the Earth to dealing with the sky.

However, Martin never lost his interest in geology and introduced Ann to the joys of ‘Terroir’ – the combination of geology and wine.  His inspiration for this was gained during an undergraduate geology field trip to France led by the late Dr Peigi Wallace.  One morning they met the Professor of Geology at Rheims and, before any academic activity began, they were handed glasses of champagne to enjoy.  During their married life Martin and Ann continued to (responsibly) explore and enjoy wines.

Martin’s interests were extensive, including a continuing interest in the topography and history of Suffolk and in artists who illustrated that county, and a love of classical music.  But, in particular, he enjoyed seeing and photographing commercial shipping which led him to many ports around the world.  In 2012 Martin and Ann had a memorable cruise on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Central America.  But sadly, his sudden death occurred all too soon afterwards.

Brian Marker